Zorloo Z:ero Digital Earphone Review
Thanks to Zorloo for the sample.
TLDR? Try here.
First Impressions: Interesting packaging. The case in some shrink wrap. Unusual but seems sensible and saves on much packaging. Not sure I’m wild about the case colour though, pinkishy purple? Sure functional but bit girlish no? Anyway, so inside we have the earphones and a bunch of tips, oh and some silica gel. Tips look nice but Comply’s will still be happening. The cable though is again an interesting colour. A smoky grey with a muted smokey red twisted pattern. It I like way more than the case. I like it a lot.
So in the ears and grabbing the Nexus 5 on my desk, plugging them in I expected something to happen. All that did was the headphone symbol appeared at the top notification bar. Hmm, that’s it? So I hit play and whoosh, music, just like that. Warm, heavy, somewhat thick in tone. Hmm not bad, better than I feared they might actually. Given they are pretty cheap packing a DAC and amp in there too must raise production costs somewhat. Off the top of my head I’m thinking Brainwavz M2. Not that I’ve heard them ages so that might not be accurate. Still its where my thoughts are heading. Not a detail monster but a really pleasant feel. Thick, velvety, cushiony, so very comfortable on the ear. Hmm burn in time for these.
Source: Errr, well they are their own DAC and amp so in theory any device is just delivering raw bits and therefor everything must sound identical. However not everything may support them so here in what I used.
Huawei P8, it recognised there was a headset plugged in but audio continued to come out of the speaker. The headset play/pause button worked through which was weird. Moto G 4G 1st gen, it worked immediately, flawlessly. Nexus 4 running CM12.1. erm nope, weirdly it didn’t work. Nexus 5 running CM12.1, worked great, go figure. Additionally a colleague tried out the following “Moto G 2013,Moto G 2015, Moto X Play, Idol 3 4.7",Idol 3 5.5, Kazam Tornado 348, Honor 6+,LG G2” and of those he said only the Motorola’s worked.
Lows: Rich, full bodied and moderately rotund. It’s got a real slant towards the thicker, more creamy and rich side of things. I rather like it actually. Big and kinda mellow. Naturally I instantly go towards slower more relaxed music as you know that when it does poppy bouncy bass, it’s too big and fat to show off any agility. Not that it won’t be a crowd pleaser, its big BIG weighty thunk give a potent bassy power. It’s big and smashy, just ploughing right through everything like a runaway train. Sooo big, sooo much power. I can see bass heads loving the power it’s got, certainly given that its intended for phone pairing, phones might not always have the power reserves to properly thunder a big bassline. No one’s going to be accusing the Z:ero of that! Roaaaaaarrrrrrrr!!!!!!
Flicking to Nora, actually the big hearty, big old softy nature of the bass works. It’s a bit over mellow and over soft. Depth is really not bad but you know given the scale that it’s going to be quite a rounded hump. Still rather a lot as it approaches the mid/bass cusp. Vocals do get affected, thickend, creamied up. Not in a particularly unpleasant way but it is VERY flavoured, much dark chocolatey creaminess.
Mids: See Lows. Highly flavoured chocolaty creamy thickness. I almost said goodness but you know, it’s a little bit too chocolatey. Like you’re nearing the end a giant piece of chocolate gateaux and you start to find all that chocolate ganache no longer desirable. Just a short while ago you wanted it so much but now it’s gotten sickly and sweetly oppressive. It not that it’s bad per say, just so creamy and rich it too much for me for long term use.
In poppy bouncy stuff that is going to be its typical fare it produces, close to what I always call that “Sony” house sound. It’s warm, its bassy, its heavy and powerful. With just a little spike way of top to inject some sparkle. For me it’s too heavy and powerful but I can see it being a crowd pleaser.
Highs: Muted. You knew what was coming from the mids and lows anyway, there are no surprises. There is a little spike to get the treble detail coming through but it never in anyway comes close, nor even thinks about dominating. The treble is never the star of the show with the Z:ero’s. That’s not an issue for me, it goes pretty well with the type of music it’s going to be playing, poppy bouncy stuff that may not be the best mastered stuff in the world. It’s a little, narrow, little spike that does what it can to shine, like a tambourine player in a band. It’s there, its audible but it’s in the back and if you aren’t looking you may never notice them.
Soundstage: Placement and such, err not so much. Scale though, sheer unadulterated power, oh that it’s got. If you want a giant wall of power then you’ll love its scale. Instrument separation is so so and any staging placement, they just get lost in the wall of potency.
Fit: Great, slapping in and done, up or down were both good. Though I’d say wear up, when you grasp the controls to change whatever it tugs on your ears if you wear down.
Comfort: Aside from the down/tugging issue great. The buds are a bit big but they are light and gave me no comfort issues. However I did find that in my little ears they moved sufficient air that loud for too long got quite tiring.
Cable: Nice. It’s pretty flexible, still has its out of the box bends but softly flexible in use. I also like the colouring, the smoky translucent with a whirling red stripe. It’s different. Seems pretty sturdy a cable too. The Y-splitter / mic and controls thing seems nice too. The “jack” the micro USB plug seems fine but I’d have been more happy if it was shorter, micro USB connectors aren’t that long and I just see the length of the “jack” putting a great deal of angled exertion and killing the thing. I’ve no evidence it will but it’s a concern to me.
Isolation: Pretty normal for a dynamic. You know the drill, fine for out and about or on a bus, not really for Tube or flights. As always enough to get yourself run over if you fail to look where you’re going.
Build Quality: It all seems not bad, the cable I particularly like but I also approve of the combining the Y-splitter and mic/controls that seems to have begun. It reduces the number of potential weak points so should increase average life span. Otherwise nothing super surprising, nice though.
Aesthetic: As ever dependent on the person but they are, fine really. I like the cable but the buds are plain, non-descript, inoffensive. You know I don’t look at them and feel anything, no love, no hate, just so so visually.
Phone Use: Err, erm it doesn’t appear to have a mic in it. Seriously? I presume it’s a limitation imposed by the USB output drivers but seriously? It doesn’t even ring when a call comes in, your music just stops. I know no one really uses their phone for calls, but still.
Amped/Unamped: Well why is this section still here you may wonder. Well it seems like the perfect place to discuss that primary feature of the Z:ero, it bypassing the internal audio outputs of your phone and utilising its own internal DAC and amp. Inside it has a Wolfson WM8918 so, yey for Wolfson, who are very widely loved in the audio world. Though the amping, it’s just what it can draw from your phone and this is USB limited, still that should be plenty for almost everything. On paper this should make for a stunning pairing. The thing is the Z:ero’s are so cheap I fear there isn’t enough money going to the earphone side of things to really justify the separate DAC and amp. Don’t get me wrong they sound pretty good but I find myself desperately thinking, I wonder what they would be like if they had instead of a sale price of US$40 but US$140 that DAC and amp may get to prove more of their worth.
Accessories: You get a not bad little case and a heap of tips. Pretty much all you need.
Value: US$39 for US’ians and an extra US$5 postage for the rest of us. So US$44 which is almost £29. You for that sum get a very good value product acoustically. It’s a very flavoured one but that’s not a bad thing it itself. However if your phone’s audio output is sooooo terrible you need to bypass it, you still need to check if this will work out of it.
Conclusion: The Z:ero is without question a fantastic concept. Easily its truly inventive and major kudos to the Z:ero team for its inception. However…… at its current price point I’m just not seeing why you would go to the bother and annoyance of its set up. If you’re only buying £30 earphones how amazing do you think they’re going to be out of your cheap ass phone or some top end DAP? So unless your phone is truly, truly horrifyingly bad then I can’t see why spend the bits on a nice DAC and little amp circuitry. I can’t plug them into the headphone socket and say conclusively that the DAC is necessary at all in this set up.
So my main grip is that Zorloo need to come out with version two and leap up a $100 in pricing. Let’s get some cracking buds that can really show off what the amp and little DAC can do. I’m strongly betting they could spank what you find in most phones but they are held back by those buds. Not the buds suck but they simply can’t show me what I want, nothing that’s priced at US$40 is really going to give me want. I cannot stop myself from feeling that they have missed an opportunity to really show off what an external DAC and amp can do.
So would I buy one, nope. I love the concept, its great and I expect their next earphone to be very interesting. As it stands the Z:ero is a good value, hugely hearty earphone that I’d wager acoustically will be a big crowd pleaser. Its big, hefty bottom end will be much loved. Still I’m just not sure the fiddlyness of the DAC and Amp are truly necessary at this price point. So a great proof of concept earphone but it is not for me.